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The Restless Anthropologist

New Fieldsites, New Visions

What does a move from a village in the West African rain forest to a West African community in a European city entail?  What about a shift from a Greek sheep-herding community to working with evictees and housing activists in Rome and Bangkok?  In The Restless Anthropologist, Alma Gottlieb brings together eight eminent scholars to recount the riveting personal and intellectual dynamics of uprooting one’s life—and decades of work—to embrace a new fieldsite.
Addressing questions of life-course, research methods, institutional support, professional networks, ethnographic models, and disciplinary paradigm shifts, the contributing writers of The Restless Anthropologist discuss the ways their earlier and later projects compare on both scholarly and personal levels, describing the circumstances of their choices and the motivations that have emboldened them to proceed, to become novices all over again. In doing so, they question some of the central expectations of their discipline, reimagining the space of the anthropological fieldsite at the heart of their scholarly lives. 

208 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2012

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology


“Alma Gottlieb has gathered some of anthropology’s best storytellers and most accomplished fieldworkers to tell why and how they have come over the years to work in multiple regions and with a changing set of analytic problems.  Their stories are richly rewarding accounts of the joys, trials, and puzzles of practicing this most undisciplined discipline.  A turbulent and telling read.”

Catherine Lutz, Brown University

The Restless Anthropologist is a rich, powerful, and compulsively readable collection of essays by anthropologists who look back at the multiple relationships between their serial fieldwork experiences and their lives.  Illustrating the dense interweaving of the personal and the professional that is the hallmark of anthropology as a vocation, these essays are at once affectively deep reflections, and clear-eyed assessments, of lives often lived ‘between here and there.’ Alma Gottlieb’s idea to stimulate these articles and bring together this collection was inspired.”

Sherry Ortner, University of California, Los Angeles

“Curiosity is a major anthropological virtue, and new field work is a wonderful way of keeping it alive and well. The lively and wise contributors to this book portray the delights of facing a new set of intellectual and personal challenges, and are equally clear about the varied domestic and institutional constraints they encounter along the way to a second (or third, or fourth…) field. Read it, and you will see how anthropologists can enjoy long, productive careers!”

Ulf Hannerz, Stockholm University

“These restless anthropologists are intellectual nomads, fine writers and accomplished field hands. They understand that the knowable world is incomplete if seen from any one point of view.  Curiosity, fate and opportunity made it possible for them to stay on the move.  Happily, the reflexive turn in anthropology now allows them to narrate their stories and tell all about their peripatetic adventures.”

Richard A. Shweder, University of Chicago

“One of the hallmarks for recent career trajectories in anthropology has been the development of new research projects in new sites; at times these draw upon the same theoretical concerns that motivated the first research, and at times they represent wholly new departures. The Restless Anthropologist provides an engaging and appropriately heterogeneous set of accounts of the genesis, development, and afterlives of such second projects. It is a pleasure to read—informative about both the field and individual scholars who have figured centrally within it—and very good to think with.”

Donald Brenneis, University of California, Santa Cruz

“These delightful accounts of fieldwork are both intellectual reflections and personal memoirs. They teach us about the state of the discipline now and earlier, and what it was like for fieldworkers when the theoretical paradigm lurched sideways, and they reveal the personal courage and choices of some of our leading scholars. The Restless Anthropologist lets us see past the polished monographs into the complex lives which have lead to their production. It offers thoughtful commentary not only on the specific challenge of changing fieldsites, but on the endlessly fascinating experience of anthropological fieldwork in general.”

Tanya Luhrmann, Stanford University

“The past fifteen years of reflection on the strengths and limitations of alternative modes of scaling-up (or -out) anthropological research practice—i.e, multi-sited fieldwork and other responses to contemporary questions about translocal phenomena—have converged around the distinctive vulnerabilities of early-career anthropologists.  This volume offers seven thoughtfully substantive autobiographical essays by later-career anthropologists about the demands and opportunities inherent in continental-scale shifts in fieldsites.  From one vantage, these essays help reconnect contemporary discourses on anthropological locations to earlier rationales and styles of scaling-up/-out: e.g., Evans-Pritchard’s advocacy of disciplined first-hand comparativism as against undisciplined substitutions of new local points of view for anthropologists’ equally local European folk models. From another vantage, these essays rework ethnographic practice by subtly undermining the trope of fieldwork as the anthropological tribe’s “central ritual”: here recurrent returns give way to unanticipated transformations, not a few of them occasioned by the surprisingly liberatory effects of life cycle constraints. While continuities between earlier and later projects are evident in these seven accounts, critical paradigm shifts and creative lateral thinking—the simultaneity of personal and disciplinary reinvention—are evident throughout.  This collection will both provoke and comfort early-career and later-career anthropologists while offering science studies scholars food for thought.”

Rena Lederman, Princeton University

“Much in the way of the development of new topics, new questions, and new variants on the classic method of anthropological fieldwork has depended on the nature and experience of a now characteristic break with the investments of early-career fieldwork projects. Alma Gottlieb’s collection is the first in-depth treatment of these ‘moments’ in anthropological careers, which are crucial to the understanding of new developments, forms, and interests in anthropological research generally.  All of the essays here are compelling, very readable as personal narratives, and successfully evocative.”

George Marcus, University of California, Irvine

“The volume’s essays . . . remind us that fieldwork is not just a fundamental aspect of the discipline of anthropology—it is also foundational to the career of the anthropologist. . . . [A] reflexive . . . tour de force, Gottlieb’s work is . . . a heartfelt testament to the undeniable role of the self in the anthropologist’s narrative.”

Roger Norum | Journal of the Anthropology Society of Oxford

“While anthropologists are the intended audience for the book, the narratives are both nourishing and thought provoking for others in related disciplines as well. . . .  From reading The Restless Anthropologist and the short bios that accompany it, as well as encountering the measured prose and rhetoric of highly skilled ethnographers, I have a sense of awe and gratitude that such a book has been written. . . . surely it is essential reading for those who have experienced the serious wobble that accompanies fieldsite change—be it geographic, conceptual, career, or otherwise. In this encouraging text, the voices of their professional kin may prove comforting to readers contemplating their own transitions. . . . I, for one, am thankful that these authors have allowed us to enter into their personal universe in such a direct and authentic way.”

Joseph Daubenmire | Anthropology and Humanism

“The strength of this collection is that the contributors reveal how anthropologists face many personal challenges in their struggle to combine life and work: they have come up against institutional prejudices based on the area-studies focus in many universities; they have struggled, sometimes valiantly, to master new languages; and they have read pages of history, ethnography, and theory to prepare for fieldwork in a new place. These essays show rather than tell why there is no one best way to develop a comparative perspective in anthropology and how fieldwork, wherever it takes place, is our lifeblood.”

James M. Taggart | Current Anthropology

“The volume is an immensely enjoyable read and is a welcome addition to the emerging literature on fieldwork and ethnographic writing. It will be of interest to anthropologists at any stage of their careers.”

Michelle C. Johnson | American Ethnologist

Table of Contents

Introduction The Challenges—and Pleasures—of Switching Fieldsites
Alma Gottlieb

Chapter 1 Unexpected Ties: Insight, Love, Exhaustion
Virginia R. Dominguez

Chapter 2 From Local to Global Ethnographic Scenarios
Gustavo Lins Ribeiro

Chapter 3 Field and Home, Self and Memory in Papua New Guinea and California
Maria Lepowsky

Chapter 4 Two Visions of Africa: Reflections on Fieldwork in an “Animist Bush” and in an Urban Diaspora
Alma Gottlieb

Chapter 5 Passionate Serendipity: From the Acropolis to the Golden Mount
Michael Herzfeld

Chapter 6 Traditions and Transitions: From Market Women in the Andes to Adoptive Families in the United States
Linda J. Seligmann

Chapter 7 Around the World in Sixty Years: From Native America to Indonesia to Tourism and Beyond
Edward M. Bruner

Paul Stoller

Work Cited
About the Authors

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